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Living With Your RV — The Wheelbase

You finally bought your dream RV. How do you drive it? Just like a car? I often see women completely leave the RV driving to their husbands. Unfortunately, when their spouses have heart attacks, strokes or die, the RV sits in the driveway for a few months and then typically goes up for sale. The widow often ends up taking a loss on the sale. The trips are now but a memory of the life she loved.

This does not have to be the scenario. RVs come in all sizes and shapes. Choose one that has a comfortable feel and with a little practice you can drive confidently. Class B RVs are the size of a van. The floors are lowered and the ceiling raised to provide standing room. These drive like cars and are very easy to get used to handling. The drawback of a Class B, of course, is the size inside. Although they have everything the big RVs do, they are missing the space a larger RV will provide. Although they are smaller in size, the price is that of the larger units, due to the amount of custom work that must be done to convert the vans to RVs.

Class C motorhomes are on cutaway van chassis. Most are on Chevy or Ford chassis. Most drivers are more comfortable driving a Class C motorhome when they move up in size. They come in sizes from 19' to over 30' and can have everything available at home. Class C RVs are safer than Class As in car accidents in most situations. The Class C has more ways to escape in case of a emergency. In a Class C (and the Class B) there are two front doors for driver and passenger, and then the side or back door. The drawback of the Class C is the climb into the overhead bed. You may or may not use it. For those RV buyers that have no use for the overhead bed, entertainment centers and storage cabinets fill that area. These units are easy to learn how to drive and can be a lot of fun.

Class As are the top of the line in the RV industry. They are built on many types of chassis, and can be found for as little as $48,000 new to over $700,000. Most of the problems described in various RV magazines are in Class As. The body is totally made by the RV factory and the chassis may be greatly modified from its initial specifications. The Class A can range from a condo with a motor to the more basic shower, shave, and place to sleep. These are more difficult to drive if you are not used to driving a large box truck, with which most women have little or no experience.

If you have purchased a motorhome, packed it, and started off on your first trip only to find yourself exhausted from attempting to keep it on the road, you are probably driving a Class A or C with a short wheelbase. Drivers of those large tractor-trailers, some with piggy back trailers create a combination suction and pushing effect when driving next to another vehicle -- this is called bowing. A commercial truck first feels like it is pushing you forward. This is while it's coming up toward you, but it has not passed or come along side yet. Then as it moves along side, the RV feels like it will go into the truck's lane. You have to fight the motorhome just to stay in your lane. As the tractor-trailer passes by, you're in a fight for your life just to remain where you are. This is not only tiresome, it is dangerous.

There are aftermarket products made to improve handling, but first make sure the RV has been loaded on each axle correctly. Remember the drivers of commercial trucks had to go through training and obtain a CDL (commercial drivers license) to drive. You have been driving a Geo, and now you are attempting to handle a gas-loving road hog. All this without any additional training. The salesman said you would not need any-right? Wrong.

Take a look at the RV. Walk around it, and start to get used to where the sewer and electric hook-ups are. Drive the RV to the closest parking lot that has the least traffic. Schools are great for this on weekends, or after school hours. Put up some cones. Put a cone where the hook-up area would be at a campground, and put another where the back of the parking space is. Most good campgrounds have pull through parking. That means you drive straight in and when leaving, you just drive straight out. Easy yes, but when sightseeing cities and towns not as prepared as the KOAs are, it is imperative to know how to park this monster in any location, and park it well.

I can park mine anywhere. My RV is small. My motorhome is 19'8" and sleeps four. It is a small Class C. This is not because I have overhead sleeping, but rather the chassis is a van cutaway chassis. Even as often as I drive, there are days when without my coffee I can make a city parking sign shake on its post. In other words, no matter how careful one is things sometimes happen -- so don't be too hard on yourself. Remember, you are a work in progress, and it won't be long before you are perfect.

When you are able to place the RV in the parking space without beating up the cones, or parking a mile from them, it is time for your first trip. Start small. Find a place about a hour or so away. This will provide some highway time. Perhaps a nice state or national park, or a campground. Remember to take roads that don't have underpasses that are lower than your RV's height, or bridges that have restricted weights that are below that of your RV.

On the highway, keep the speed at 55 mph. Drive the legal speed and stay in the slow lane. Get used to the motorhome. Don't go too fast. If you hit the brakes hard, the RV will not stop in the space of the Geo. You are driving a house -- with an oven, bathroom, food, water, LP gas, and more. That's a lot of weight, and it will not stop on a dime. Keep the legal distance from the car in front of you. Don't be afraid to pass slower moving cars and trucks. The practice will prove beneficial. When the commercial trucks start to pass, see how the motorhome handles in the situation. Does it have any problems. Short wheelbase RVs tend to have more problems, the same way short wheelbase commercial trucks are more difficult to drive than the big 18 wheelers.

My unit has not been a problem in most highway situations. There have been a few times when I experienced some bowing, when stuck in the center lane with two piggyback trucks on either side of me. This was of some concern to me for a few seconds. I handled it without much bother, but my next RV will have a wider wheelbase.

The wider the wheelbase, the more roadworthy the motorhome. The RV should go down the road without any effect from what is passing it. If your RV is all over the road and you can't correct it, sell the RV. Trade it in. Get rid of it. Buy a motorhome you can drive and be comfortable in. If you want a smaller RV, fine. Buy the widest wheelbase for the size length of the unit that is made. Remember to buy a unit that has a chassis that is strong enough to carry everything you intend to put in it with at least a few hundred pounds to spare.

I am moving up in size this year. I am going to drive a 24' or 25' home. This is plenty of space for my family. I am comfortable at this length, and although I have driven longer, this is my comfort zone in terms of size. Find your comfort zone. If you are a driver that may be different than the comfort zone you had when you were responsible for picking out just the carpet and fabric colors. If you have a spouse, talk to him, really talk to him. Find out what his comfort zone is. When you go down the road and are both confidant that the RV is in control, the trip will be more rewarding. An RV costs a lot of money -- don't let it sit -- use it. This will happen if you both enjoy driving it. Make sure you have purchased a unit that is a good value. One that is road worthy, and comfortable, a unit of which you can be proud.

Next time we will discuss the kitchen.